North Korea warns people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 struggle

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Isolated North Korea is warning its people to brace for a prolonged struggle against the coronavirus, claiming that broadening outbreaks and muddled immunization programs in other countries show vaccines aren’t the ultimate solution.

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The column published on Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper came amid questions on when and how vaccines would arrive in North Korea.

The UN-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million vaccine doses in the first half of this year. However, COVAX has since warned of global shortages because the Serum Institute of India, which is licensed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, is putting its supplies into domestic demand while India’s virus caseload is surging.

The North has claimed a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19, but outside experts have doubted the claim, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.

Rodong took an apparent shot at India’s anti-virus campaign without naming the country. It said a certain nation that had “exported vaccines it produced while publicly insisting that it considers the evil virus as defeated,” was now experiencing an explosive growth in infections driven by more contagious virus variants after it had eased social distancing.

“The cases of other countries provide further proof that vaccines aren’t an all-around solution,” the newspaper wrote.

The North has told the World Health Organization it found no infection among 24,500 people it tested through mid-April.

North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and mobilized health workers.

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